Just Another Day In Indonesia…

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Monumen Trisula

I came home last Saturday after school and my ibu and bapak immediately asked me, “Are you busy tomorrow?” I was free, Sunday being the only day of the week where I’m not at school. “We want to go to Bakung. Call Sam and see if he is free!” My friend Sam, another volunteer, lives in a village in the next regency. His site isn’t far away from mine as the crow flies but the roads are small and hilly so it’s not the easiest trip. To my shame, Sam has biked over these hills, potholes and all, to my site countless times (it takes about two hours) and I still hadn’t gone to his site.


Rafa originally said he was brave enough to stay home alone (ha…) but decided he would be happy to come along if he could bring his cobra-on-a-stick

So I called Sam and he had nothing going on and my host family called a driver (my host brother, our go-to driver, was not berani – brave – enough to drive over those “mountains” and bad roads) and it was a plan. It wasn’t until I got in the car the next morning that I realized we had 9 people with us! After about an hour and a half in a car (you will see what a speedy bike rider Sam is, considering he can bike to my site in about 2 hours), we made it to the sleepy village of Bakung and parked by a field. I called Sam to ask how far away he was from where we were – turns out he lives only three houses away and we were in front of his school!


The crossroads in Bakung where Sam’s house, school, and the famous monument basically intersect

Though Bakung is a small place, it’s known for the role it played in “defeating Communism”* a few decades ago. There’s a well-known monument in Bakung which was part of my host family’s reason for the visit. We weren’t the only visitors that day – which shouldn’t have been surprising considering that it was National Heroes Day – there were two buses of students from Jogja in Central Java!


The field where the Communists were killed. It’s not a bright side of history, but one that is important to learn about.


The students from Jogja getting a lecture from Bakung’s favorite army man who, Sam says, often comes to classes when teachers are absent to give motivational speeches


Monument up close with my family below for scale


The traditional Javanese house next to the monument…plus some students maybe taking a picture of Sam and I or maybe taking a picture of the monument…or both? 🙂


My host sister Bu Nova and Rafa at the base of the monument

Besides our sight-seeing, we ran into Sam’s counterpart and visited with him at his house and then visited Sam’s house. In total we only had to walk a few hundred meters to each of these places and, according to Sam, everything important in Bakung was within eyesight. After just a couple hours we piled back in the car to drive home. It was fun to finally see where Sam lived and meet some of people that I’d only heard about from his site. It was also fun to see his school. My site is completely different; my school is 5 times the size of Sam’s and my area is bustling with activity. His site is calm and quiet and beautiful and both of our site placements suit us to a tee. ☺ And it was fun to go jalan-jalaning (going on a walk, i.e, traveling) with my host family. It was the kind of activity I enjoy doing with my family at home – taking a daytrip, exploring someplace new – and it reminded me yet again that I really feel like a part of this family.


Sam’s school – it’s a technical/vocational school so students are split into different tracks: fishery, cooking, and computer building/technology


The fishery part of school


Sam and my bapak checking out the kitchen area for the cooking track


The view of Bakung from the top of the monument


Beautiful, quiet, peaceful

* Indonesia’s history with communism is not pretty and is not an open topic for conversation with most Indonesians. In fact, a documentary – “The Act of Killing” – was recently released and this article digs into the politics a bit. I haven’t seen the documentary but I got it from Sam and plan to watch it soon.


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Attitude Adjustment

I’ve now started my second year of teaching with new classes. It’s been much different than starting my first year, mostly in good ways. One big difference is that this year has been off to a much slower start. I think that’s mostly due to the fact that school started during Ramadan this year, whereas last year we had a couple weeks of normal classes before fasting began. The slow start meant schedules weren’t complete until a few days after classes were supposed to start, new students didn’t (and still don’t) have their high school uniforms, and the academic calendar was only released two weeks ago (a month and a half after school began). I was nervous about my schedule this year. I remember at this time last year I was talking with other volunteers, and we were comparing our schedules with the highs and lows – who had weekends off, who taught with good counterparts, who had unruly classes, etc. I remember making comments like, “Next year, I’ll make sure they give me what I want” or “I’ll figure out what’s best for me this year and make sure I set up an awesome schedule for next year.” When it was time for me to travel back to the States, I wondered if I should leave a detailed list of my preferences for the next year’s schedule – in case my vice principal set it up while I was gone. But as I scrambled to get everything ready, I had no time and I forgot about it.

When I got back the schedule (surprise) wasn’t finished but it was in the works. My vice principal told me that my counterpart who I taught the most classes with previously had requested to teach only one class with me, while a new counterpart was ready to teach multiple classes with me in grade ten. I started freaking out a little. It was exactly what I didn’t want. I wanted to teach grade eleven, I preferred teaching more classes with counterparts I’d worked with before so we could build on our first year, and I was confused on why my counterpart had requested to teach only one class with me without telling me. Was the first year that bad? I thought it had been pretty successful. As it turns out, my counterpart (actually, two of my counterparts) is pregnant and was concerned that we taught several classes together it would be difficult when she goes on maternity leave. Once I got that sorted out, the schedule was just about finished. My completed schedule had me teaching three classes of Grade 10, and only one of Grade 11 – which was not a class of science students, as I had requested, but social students.* I was teaching three of my classes with veteran counterparts and one with a new counterpart. I was teaching every day of the week except Wednesday (a day reserved for lesson planning and English teachers’ meetings), with a full schedule on Friday – my only free day last year. Faced with the prospect of no free days and no classes I was excited about, I didn’t know what to do. What happened to my plan of ensuring I had the perfect schedule to glide through my second year?

I called my dad to ask for advice. Should I fight the schedule? Should I tell my vice principal it needed to change because I couldn’t teach every day and it would really be better if I had different classes? My dad wisely pointed out that I had no leverage in this situation. And anyway, wasn’t I there to help? I’m a co-teacher, so my schedule is dependent on the schedule of three other teachers and it would cause a real fiasco to try to change it.

“But, Dad,” I said, “It’s going to be a really challenging year.”
“Isn’t that what you signed up for? Didn’t you join Peace Corps because you wanted to be challenged?” he replied.

That conversation made me realize I badly needed an attitude adjustment. My self-centered focus on solely on setting up the best situation for me. I wasn’t thinking about what would work best for my school, or how I could help them. On a larger scale, this attitude extends far beyond a school schedule. What am I doing to help my community? Am I open to new opportunities and challenges? Or is my focus on being comfortable? What’s my attitude when I unexpectedly have a stranger visit me in the evening when I want to relax? Or when people want to take my picture or ask me for the millionth time if I’m kerasan (comfortable) in Indonesia? To be honest, these things annoy me, and I am only human – some things are bound to get under my skin. But my dad is right – I joined Peace Corps because I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to experience new things. I’ve done that in my first year – why not also in my second?

My second-year resolution is this:

– to keep an open mind and an open heart

– to resist slipping into monotony or volunteer-centric isolation from my community

– to continue to put energy and effort into developing relationships with my family, neighbors, coworkers, students, and community members

– to remember I’m here but to help my community – so I need to evaluate my attitude and actions to ensure they are focused outwardly so I can be most available and supportive – not inwardly, focusing on my own comfort

With that resolution in mind, I realized my attitude shouldn’t be to figure out how to make other people change according to what best serves my comfort. I should, instead, be doing what I can to be helpful to my school. My school has about 70 teachers and one overworked vice principal who was trying to juggle everyone’s different schedule demands (which, for many teachers, includes teaching at two schools, working multiple jobs, or living away from their families during the week and requiring more than a single day off so they can go home once a week). Surely, one volunteer who lives one kilometer away from school and has no other teaching demands besides those I’ve accepted voluntarily (teaching elementary students on Fridays, for instance, helping with English club) can manage to come to school 6 days a week if that’s what’s best.

As these things usually turn out, my schedule has ended up being perfectly fine. I actually have really enjoyed teaching my tenth grade classes, while my eleventh grade class is looking rather challenging at this point – but that’s what I signed up for. 🙂 I’ve enjoyed the rhythm of teaching only a class or two every day and finishing up at 8:30 on Saturday with the rest of Saturday and Sunday free. I’m so glad I didn’t try to fight the schedule – I most likely would have made a fool of myself and everything worked out just fine anyway. And as obstacles arise – like several weeks of canceled classes or teachers who don’t show up or sudden illnesses that land me in the hospital – I’ve been remembering my resolution and it’s helped mitigate a lot of frustration as I realize, it’s better not to sweat the small stuff but just keep doing what I can to help.

*In my school, the eleventh and twelfth grade classes are split into two tracks: social and science. Stereotypes abound about the two tracks (mostly, that science students are smart and diligent and social students are lazy, dumb, and undisciplined), and that can be pretty frustrating to me because teachers tend to teach to the stereotypes and students internalize the stereotypes and the cycle continues.

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Idul Fitri: Through the Lens

Finally, after several days of trying and failing, I have good enough internet to post my Idul Fitri photos! I took these when I went with my family to the Idul Fitri morning prayer service at the neighborhood mosque.


The girls and women at the mosque getting ready for the special Idul Fitri service


Bags of food to give to the poor


Everyone from the neighborhood came for the most important holiday of the year!


Happy children in bright, shiny (new?) clothes


This little girl who looks like a cross between a pumpkin and a ghost (Halloween, anyone?) loves to yell, “MISS SARAH!” every time she sees me


Neighborhood boys messing around like usual and trying to hang off the flag


My shy little neighbor girl


Oops, looking the wrong way


What an awesome Strawberry Shortcake jilbab. If I had been a Muslim child I would have LOVED that.


I’m sure for this little boy it was much more interesting to watch me than watch everyone praying 🙂




This one is as mischievous as he looks.


Time to shake hands and go home

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Idul Fitri Number Two

[written on Thursday, August 8th – not published until now due to lack of interent and laziness]


It’s really interesting being here for a second round of the biggest holiday in Indonesia. I assumed it would be the same as the previous year, but that’s silly – Christmases are different every year, even if you do the same activities. Obviously it’s the same for Idul Fitri.


Last year I woke up on the morning of Idul Fitri to an empty house. Everyone in the whole neighborhood went to the mosque and I was alone. It was strangely quiet, after a month of mosques blaring, fireworks, and people up at all hours of the day and night. It was nice to have the house to myself but I wondered what was going on at the mosque. I continued to wonder and I felt a little jealous when I talked to other PCVs that went with their family to the mosque, either for the special evening prayer every night during Ramadan or on the morning of Idul Fitri. I knew my family wasn’t trying to exclude me but rather showed their respect for the fact that I am Christian, not Muslim, by not asking me to participate in Muslim traditions if I don’t want to. But the thing is, I did want to go to the mosque; I was just too shy to ask. I was talking to a PCV about this a few days ago and she said, “It’s an American thing. We don’t want to invite ourselves to things.” That’s probably true, and it’s also a personality thing. Even in situations when I could just directly ask for something* I tend to beat around the bush and hope the other person will offer. I don’t want to ask for something and face rejection or make the person feel uncomfortable. So, it makes sense that I have almost never invited myself to something with the family – I always wait to be invited. This year, as Ramadan came to a close, I realized I really did want to join my family. This will probably be the only time in my life I’m living in a predominantly Muslim country during Ramdan and what a cool experience it is! I would just have to take charge of the situation and ask. So, I did. And my ibu said yes, of course I could come and I could bring my camera. [Photos coming soon – when the internet at school actually works and I can upload photos again.]


This morning I found myself strolling down the street as the sun arose with my host family and all my neighbors following. Everyone gathered at the small mosque and I sat across the yard at a friend’s house and took pictures. Since the prayers/message from the imam was all in Arabic and Javanese, I didn’t understand anything beyond the word “dhahar” (formal Javanese for “eat”)** but it was still meaningful to gather with my community and see how they celebrate their most important holiday.


After the mosque, we came home and I napped. I came down with a cold the night before Idul Fitri – perfect timing for a holiday when you’re required to shake hands with everyone you meet…at least two times. Post-nap the family gathered to ask forgiveness. Children have to ask their parents for forgiveness first by saying, “Minal Aidzin Walfaidzin” (Arabic)/ “Mohon Maaf Lahir dan Batin” (Indonesian) which loosely translates to “I’m sorry for the mistakes I’ve made towards you.” The child must salim (raise the hand of their parent to their cheek or forehead in a sign of respect) their parent and then apologize. Then, they shake hands with everyone else. This can often be a very emotional moment for families. In my house, I salim-ed my ibu and apologized to both my ibu and bapak and shook hands with the rest of the family and wished them a Happy Idul Fitri. Then we all went to my host aunt’s house – she is the oldest of my bapak’s siblings, and though she is Christian, she still celebrates Idul Fitri with her neighbors and family (as do many Christians here). We all salim-ed her and she was so touched; there were not many dry eyes in that house.


Then it was finally time to eat breakfast! It’s quite a change going from eating breakfast at 3 AM for a month to getting up around 4 or 5 but waiting until 8:30 to eat. We were hungry! Traditionally, people cook chicken here for the holiday. We grow, kill, and cook our own chickens here and, in the spirit of the holiday, I even forewent my vegetarianism to try a little bit. After breakfast, I took another nap.*** The other adult children in the family went to ask forgiveness from their other parents/parents-in-law.


Around 10, it was time to start making the rounds to the neighbors. Idul Fitri is all about visiting people. The idea is similar to asking forgiveness from your parents – you want to show respect and apologize for any mistakes you’ve made (apologizing is big here). Usually, you go to someone’s house, shake the hand of everyone in the house, sit down, eat a snack and drink something, make small talk, and then say “ayo” (“Let’s go”) and shake everyone’s hand again as you leave. If you’re lucky enough to be a child, that second handshake will include an envelope with a little bit of cash. It’s like trick-or-treating…but better. In my experience, people aren’t actually apologizing during these visits, but the fact that they came to the house is really important and will be remembered all year long (especially if you happen to be an American visitor and they take your picture – very memorable).


I was traveling with a big crew, which included three of my adult host siblings, my host nephew, my host brother-in-law and his siblings and their spouses and children. There were three things that stuck out to me as I went from house to house. The first was that even though most of the people I was with are not family members I interact with on a daily basis (and some I only see once or twice a year), they all treat me like a real member of the family. Sometimes I interact with people who treat me like an animal in the zoo. They want to stare and take my picture and they talk loudly as if my foreignness implies that I am deaf or stupid or both. I am so very lucky that no one in my family or extended family**** acts like that. Instead, they treat me like an adult. They don’t even try to show me off, though they will answer other people’s questions about me, which saves me from saying the same thing a hundred times. In short, they (extended family included) are the best host family. Period. The second thing was that I realized that the majority of the people I was going house-to-house with were Christian! One of my host brother-in-law’s siblings converted through marriage and had three boys and I didn’t even realize until a couple weeks ago that they were not Muslim. That’s another testament to the awesomeness of my host family – they truly treat people the same, regardless of their religion. This is just another reason why I feel so comfortable with them. And, finally, I really enjoy going to my neighbors’ houses. It’s pretty eye-opening to see the insides of the houses I pass everyday. Most are very simple – something I did not realize until Idul Fitri last year because my house is relatively nice and I assumed my neighbors’ were all the same as mine. But even the simple ones are full of character. There are always pictures and posters of kids and grandkids and weddings. Some are full of Javanese cultural symbols, like wayang. Others have Arabic signs hanging over every door. You really get a better sense of a person when you see their house. I wish we had a similar ceremony in the States. I think it would do people good to go into their neighbors’ houses once a year.


After hours of visiting houses, it was time for nap number three. I crashed in my bed and slept straight through all the visitors who were sitting in the guest room just outside my door. One benefit of living in Indonesia for a year is that I can now sleep through fireworks exploding, mosques blaring, children screaming, cats howling, and guests sitting outside my room. In the evening, I stayed at home and helped host – which means I shook hands with everyone who came through the door. It’s like Halloween, you just wait to see who will come and then you give them snacks/candy. Unlike Halloween, it leaves me rather exhausted and it continues for a solid week. Day One down, only six more to go!


[Obviously, Idul Fitri has long since ended and I do have photos, coming soon!]


* Recently, at our Mid Service Conference I had a conversation with my counterpart and a couple other volunteers where we joked about how I’m more culturally Javanese and she is more American. The other volunteers were surprised and asked for an example. Bu Chris astutely told them that if I want something, I won’t ask her directly. Instead, I just bring up the topic and talk in circles until she figures it out. It’s true – guilty as charged.


**I assume everyone was encouraged to gorge themselves on snacks later in the day…at least, that’s what I did.


***This is starting to sound like a Beseda holiday


**** With the exception of a couple family members that I met during Idul Fitri last year…luckily I don’t have to see them more than a couple times a year

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A Long Hiatus

I’m back online after a two-week internet hiatus and a much longer blogging hiatus. It’s been too long. During my trip home many of my friends told me they read my blog and I was really touched to hear that because I didn’t know so many people were keeping up with what I’m doing here. Naturally, I was inspired to blog more and of course I have utterly failed to even write one post since going home. My apologies, loyal friends.

A brief recap of the recent months:

In June I went home and had a lovely time. I didn’t have any troubles adjusting to the food or time difference but culture shock hit a little when I saw how clean and fresh everything was. I forgot what grass smelled like. And the first night back I couldn’t sleep because it was so silent. I didn’t have the lullaby of crickets, frogs, mice/rats, cats, geckos, TV blaring, motorcycles roaring past the house, people shouting, and mosques call-to-prayer-ing. Believe it or not, I can sleep through those noises now and I genuinely missed them when I was in America. I had to wear earplugs to block out the silence so I could sleep. I also had trouble walking on the right side of the sidewalk. I wondered why all the other pedestrians were walking around me like I was an obstacle – that’s why I realized I naturally walk on the left side of the road after one year in Indonesia. I was cold practically all of the time. I missed my warm blanket of humidity (words I never thought I’d say).

Being with my family was simply amazing. I love them and I loved every minute I spent at home. We did so many activities. I went to the beach, Becca and I moved David home from college for the summer, I went strawberry picking with Mom and Hannah, I had a family BBQ, I visited Sellwood Pool for Hannah’s first ever day of work, and so on. I got to see my favorite Portland people (shout out to Elizabeth and Olivia!) and go to church three times. I ate lots of great food. After about a week and a half of that I went up to Seattle where I visited many of my college friends, visited my old office where I worked for nearly 5 years, and – most importantly – got to be a bridesmaid in Charis and Josh’s wedding. It was an honor and a ton of fun. That whole weekend was so special and I’m pretty sure I was still glowing afterwards for at least a few weeks. Then it was back to Portland for a few more days of family time and running errands and then I was on my way back to Indonesia.

Coming back to Indonesia was just as smooth of a transition as going home. I was surprised. I expected to feel really homesick when I first got back but I felt right at home when that first blast of humidity hit me in the Jakarta airport. I loved being able to communicate in Indonesian with the people around me – so much so that I practically accosted the gentleman sitting next to me on the plane in my eagerness to speak Indonesian. He coolly responded in English. After a sketchy ride home with a potentially drunk driver, my wonderful host family picked me up from the side of the road at 5 AM and I was back.

I was a little concerned that my language skills would be rusty after a few weeks in the States but there was no better way to brush up on them than instant immersion. After crashing for a few hours at home I got to go visit my brand-new 5-day-old host niece (along with the entire extended family – none of whom speaks a word of English). Baby Aqila is absolutely adorable and I got to witness and photograph her hair-cutting ceremony that took place when she was one week old. No promises, but hopefully there will be a blog post about this coming soon.

July a month full of language camp, VAC meetings, and our Mid Service Conference (aka, tons of PCV time). School started slowly and then stopped again so everyone could start fasting. Then, school resumed with a shortened schedule. I met my classes a couple times and then in August we had another two week break for the Idul Fitri holiday. That was my recent two weeks sans internet. Blog post coming very soon (tomorrow?) about my second Idul Fitri here. After the festivities I spent a few days at the beach in Pacitan with some friends. We cooked extravagant meals, swam in the ocean, read books, played games, and relaxed. It was one of my favorite vacations so far and I can’t wait to go back.

Now school is back in session (for reals) and I’m staying quite busy grading pre-assessment tests, making posters for the classroom, and mapping out this semester. In my down time I’m trying to cook more and do more yoga and hopefully blog more and describe different cultural experiences I’ve had here. I’m really excited for this second year – it’s gonna be a good one.

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Recently I took part in an awesome and inspiring 2-night, 3-day camp for female students called iGLOW: Indonesian Girls Leading Our World. I had been part of the planning process for the camp for months. Last year was the first year there was a GLOW camp in Indonesia, but they are common in many Peace Corps countries. This year we expanded to four camps across East Java!

The goals of the camp are for girls to develop new friendships, work together, build self-confidence, reach for high goals, and generally be empowered to be strong leaders. This is especially important in a country where boys and men traditionally are given leadership roles while girls and women play more subservient roles. When asked why this is the case, the answer given is often tied to religion or cultural customs but the truth is there are plenty of strong (and religiously devout) Indonesian female leaders. Camp iGLOW recruited some of these women to speak to the students about topics covering gender stereotypes, inner beauty, health & nutrition, reproductive health, higher education, leadership, healthy relationships, human trafficking, and more. When the girls weren’t in sessions they spent time in small groups creating posters, preparing for a talent show on the last day, doing early morning exercise (senam, yoga, or basketball), dancing together during our bonfire/dance party, and more. I certainly didn’t sleep much (maybe 3 or 4 hours a night?) and I’m sure the girls didn’t either, but fun was had by one and all, and good lessons were learned.

The camp concluded with the a closing ceremony where the girls read this commitment (in bahasa Indonesia) together:

1. Personal Commitment

a. I promise to love myself for my beauty inside as well as out.

b. I promise to never settle for anything less than what’s best for me in relationships, with my body, the opportunities I allow for myself and for my future.

c. I promise to never give up on what I’m passionate about.

2. Commitment to share knowledge with women in your community

a. I promise to share the skills and knowledge I’ve gained at iGLOW Day with the other students at my school and members of my community.

b. I promise to become a leader in advancing the role/image of women and girls at my school and in my community.

3. Commitment to promoting the image of strong women around the world

a. I promise to continue working to promote a positive image of Indonesian women and women around the world.


I think my photos can tell the rest of the story.

To all the lovely PCVs who helped with Camp iGLOW, keep glowing!!



Ice breakers – “find a friend”



Meeting in their small groups for the first time


Early morning senam


Sessions! This one is leadership.


Making posters about healthy relationships


The “Sit” Game – working together


Most of our amazing speakers (mostly this picture is proof that I attended the camp because, as the photographer, I was rarely in the photos!)


Talent Show at the end of the weekend


The pink group posing with the iGLOW Flag that each group contributed to


(almost) all of us!



Me and my fabulous eight iGLOW girls.

For more photos, see my facebook!

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One Year Reflections, Part Two [Lessons Learned]

I promised a post about the projects I’ve worked on over the last year and I started writing it and basically bored myself to sleep. It’s not that I’m not interested in talking about these projects but after a while it sounded way too much like my VRF (Volunteer Report File) that I have to fill out three times a year. I’d rather write about the different themes I’ve noticed in myself and my experience over the past year, so here we go.


People make my experience what it is.

My last post really elaborated on this. What I forgot to share about are the other volunteers I am privileged to know. My group, ID6, is the third batch of volunteers here in Indonesia since the program reopened in 2010. I may be biased but I think my group totally rocks. There’s so many cool, inspiring, fun people. Most of us met up recently to meet the new batch of volunteers, ID7. I hadn’t seen several of my friends since our training last October so it was great to have a reunion (even if it was brief). We ate non-Indonesian food, we told stories, we vented, we met the new trainees, and then we partied like rock stars for the last time with the batch of PCVs that came before us, ID5. We didn’t sleep much, but it was worth it. And as for ID7, they seem awesome. I’m pumped to have them here, and they seem like a great group. I was especially excited to meet two volunteers from SE Portland! What a small world! I got to spend even more time with then when I helped as a resource volunteer during TEFL training last week (look for an upcoming post on this).


I love teaching.

I guess I knew this before Peace Corps, but my service has only confirmed it: I do really like being in the classroom and working with students. I like helping people understand a new concept or idea. I like being silly with my students and making them laugh. I hope I’ve made English fun for them. The truth is, English won’t be important in all of their lives (maybe not even many of their lives) but I hope that the experience of learning something in a new way has been beneficial to them. This leads to my next point, which is…


Teaching English is not that important to me.

I do think English can provide opportunities for my students but I’ve never been that passionate about teaching English in particular. What I do love is when my counterpart and I will use teaching English as a method to start a deeper conversation, like when we asked students to write essays on one thing they would change at their school. I also love using the material to bring up important topics, like teaching announcements by showing video clips of PSAs about topics my CP identified as affecting the lives of our students (reckless driving, peer pressure, smoking, etc). But teaching grammar? Not my cup of tea.


I’m adaptable.

Again, I knew this before Peace Corps (my mom told me this before I even came here) but it’s fairly easy for me to adapt to new situations, especially when traveling/living in another country. It’s usually harder for me to adapt back to the ‘familiar’ at home…maybe because I change with each new experience and I have to negotiate what those changes mean when I find myself returning home to a situation that looks and feels the same as when I left.


I’m less scared of things.

Spiders, mice, rats, cockroaches, snakes…you name it, we’ve got it. And while I don’t like these creatures, I’m more likely to laugh when I see a mouse run across the room than scream and run away. (I do still ask my host dad to kill/remove any large critter that makes its way into my room, though.)


Internet is a precious resource…

…and all too often Indonesia feels like it’s running short. (But, seriously, I do not understand internet here and why it so often shuts off or stops working.)


Indonesia could make me an introvert.

Every time I’ve done one of those personality tests I’m always split between introvert and extrovert. On the one hand, I love being with people, I feed off that energy, I’m a verbal processor, and I don’t really like being alone. On the other hand, I don’t like big groups. I find those exhausting, and I prefer small groups of people where you can have more meaningful conversation. Also, I don’t really like being labeled and I don’t feel like I fit the extrovert or introvert category to a tee, so why choose? But my time in Indonesia is fostering the introvert side of me. Before I came here, by far my biggest concern was isolation. I was afraid of being away from people because maybe I needed them by nature of who I was. Well, if that was true, I came to the right island – Java is the most densely populated island in the world. Living with a host family has been ideal for me because there are people around but I’m not necessarily doing activities with them all the time. But at the same time I’ve grown much more comfortable with silence and solitude and if I don’t have a couple hours to drink tea and read books in the evening then I feel too busy/overly stimulated (put another way, Indonesia could be turning me into a grandma).


I like to delegate.

Clearly, my dad has raised me well because my dad is one of the best delegators around (case in point, he always “delegated” all household chores to us kids and told us his role in cleaning the house was finished – he was the delegator). Anyway, whenever I can I prefer to delegate responsibilities, especially to student leaders. Students here don’t get too many opportunities to have real leadership and responsibility, unless they join scouts or OSIS (think student council). Our English Club elected student leaders for the first time this year and I push them to think of activities, help plan and lead, etc. It makes less work for me, which is nice, but more importantly it teaches students responsibility. Sometimes the activities flop and that’s ok. If I rescued them every time that happened they would just depend on me to be the one in charge all the time. I want to empower them to be able to make decisions and problem solve. Long story short: I’m passionate about youth development and it’s been exciting to see my students grow in their confidence, leadership skills, and critical thinking skills.


I am a product of my environment.

Recently I’ve received some kudos from fellow volunteers for the “success” I’ve had in my community. My gut reaction is to deflect this because I don’t think the successes here are due to my presence as much as the fact that I have wonderful people to work with. The truth is, my community is unique. My area is more religiously diverse (and tolerant), more liberal – and by that I mean more accepting of differences and less strictly conservative, and more progressive than other areas in East Java where PCVs live. A few examples: around my town there are eight churches. They may be small but that’s a very high number for an area in East Java. My Catholic counterpart can discuss God in class without it being a divisive topic because there is a genuine level of respect for people with different opinions (and she’s clearly not trying to convert anyone). The fact that students can dance at my school – and dance Gangnam Style at that! – shows that my school is more liberal than many of my friends’ schools (it helps that it’s not a religious high school). Clothing is less restrictive here; girls wear knee-length shorts, less girls and women wear veils (though that doesn’t mean they are opposed to the veil but for one reason or another they have chosen not to be veiled…topic for another post). And perhaps it’s a bold claim to say my area is more progressive than others but I’m basing that partly on facts…girls in my area are more likely to work or go to college after high school and the average age of marriage is higher here than in other places….and partly I’m basing this on observation: last week the teachers in my regency protested because they were unhappy with the process for choosing principals and the fact that their bonuses would be taken away. I haven’t heard of teachers protesting in any other area before. Anyway, these are just a few examples to give you an idea of the environment I’ve been placed in. I’ve done lots of exciting and inspiring things with my counterparts and my students, but I think it’s really because they are awesome people who are ready to work hard. Maybe I’ve been a catalyst but I’m not the reason for success; rather, my “success” is a product of my environment.


I love having a sense of home here.

Recently every time I have gone on vacation I’ve had stressful travel experiences and I just can’t wait to go home. I like home. I can relax here.

Here’s a story from yesterday that illustrates how I feel about being here for one year:

I’m riding home on a borrowed bicycle after ketoprak (Javanese drama) practice. I’m definitely feeling like a Peace Corps Volunteer because I’m reminded, again, that I am not allowed to ride on a motorcycle. Every single teacher and student at the practice rode a motorcycle (the one who drove me in a car had left early) and I was stuck until someone kindly lent me a bike. So I’m biking and as I leave the house where we had practice I feel the stares of people who have not seen me before. I hear people yelling, “Hello, bule, how are you?” I can’t decide if I prefer being called “bule” or “mister.” How about neither. I stare straight ahead, concentrating on avoiding the potholes. This road is so bad, I think this borrowed bicycle will fall to pieces. I turn onto the road that leads past school to home, three kilometers to go. These potholes are familiar to me. I know when to swerve to the left and the right, I know when to slow down because motorcyclists might suddenly turn in front of me. I stop at the bridge to take a picture of the breathtaking view that never ceases to amaze me. I live in a beautiful place. Now I’m only two kilometers away. This is where I start to feel like I’m at home. Suddenly I find myself in the middle of a throng of people setting up something that looks like carnival. Actually, what is really looks like is Last Thursday on Alberta Street in the summer, minus the pot and alcohol. As I push my way through the crowd I get more stares and I hear lots of “bule” comments from people who don’t know me. But then I see the head of the village who greets me with, “Hello, Sarah!” and I feel known. I bike on and yell a greeting as I pass my counterpart’s mother. I’m close to school. A student who I don’t teach drives me and says hello to me. I bike on, only one kilometer from home. The children from down the street yell, “Miss Saraaaaah!” as I pass by. I turn right, onto my street. I nod to the elderly man who sits on his porch and waves and monggo’s me every afternoon. I see my neighbors and I say hi. “Going home?” they ask. “Yes,” I reply. And now I’m almost to my house. And down the street, so far that I can hardly see, one of the elementary school kids jumps up and down and waves his arm at me. I turn into my house where my family exclaims, “Sarah’s home! It’s so late!” I see my host brother, sister, nephews, mother…and I feel known.


This is how I know I’ve been here for one year. I’m not merely a bule to everyone. I’ve created ties with these people in this place and it’s good.


I’m looking forward to the next year here.